IDF says misidentification led to accidental killing of Palestinian toddler

Officer conducting search at scene of attack on military post fired into air after spotting suspicious vehicle, whereupon soldier mistook father and child for fleeing attackers

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Mohammed Tamimi (left), who was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire in the West Bank on June 1, 2023. (Right) The scene of the incident near the settlement of Neve Tzuf. (Social media; Medabrim Tikshoret)
Mohammed Tamimi (left), who was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire in the West Bank on June 1, 2023. (Right) The scene of the incident near the settlement of Neve Tzuf. (Social media; Medabrim Tikshoret)

The Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday it had wrapped up its probe into the death of a Palestinian toddler who was mistakenly shot by Israeli troops in the West Bank earlier this month.

Two-and-a-half-year-old Mohammed Tamimi and his father, Haitham, were hit by gunshots as Israeli soldiers returned fire at Palestinian gunmen who had shot toward them at the settlement of Neve Tzuf.

According to the probe, on June 1 two Palestinian gunmen opened fire at the settlement of Neve Tzuf (also known as Halamish) and an adjacent military post on the outskirts of the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh.

Troops stationed at the post returned fire, but due to a misidentification, they targeted the Palestinian father and child, the latter of whom later died.

The probe said soldiers monitoring surveillance cameras identified the two gunmen and notified the troops at the post. The soldiers at the post heard the gunfire, but could not locate the source.

An officer who quickly reached the scene began to search the area for the gunmen who fled. The officer fired into the air, against army regulations, after spotting a suspicious vehicle, according to the probe.

Mourners carry the body of 2.5-year-old Mohammed Haitham al-Tamimi during his funeral in the village of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank, June 6, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

The probe found that at the same time, one of the soldiers at a post near the Palestinian village spotted two figures entering a vehicle in the area, and wrongly thought it was the gunmen who had opened fire at the settlement.

The soldier asked for permission from his commander to open fire, and after receiving an okay, fired several bullets at the car, resulting in the fatal injury of infant Mohammed and the serious injury of his father.

“The sequence of events and hearing the officer’s gunfire during the searches in the village led the soldier to believe it was the gunfire of the fleeing terrorists,” the IDF said.

The father and son reached the army post after a short while and were treated by military medics and other medical forces. The toddler was rushed to an Israeli hospital by military helicopter, where he died several days later. The father was taken by Palestinian medics to a hospital in Ramallah.

“The investigation revealed gaps in the command and control of commanders in the incident, as well as in the reports and dialogue between forces in the field, which led to wrong decision-making,” the IDF said.

The officer who fired into the air against army protocol will be formally censured, the IDF said.

Soldiers and medics at scene of a shooting attack toward an IDF post near the West Bank settlement of Neve Tzuf, June 1, 2023. (Medabrim Tikshoret)

The probe’s findings have been handed to the Military Prosecutor’s Office for evaluation.

The chief of the IDF Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, said he “regrets the harm to civilians and the death of the toddler. We will continue to learn and improve in order to precisely target terrorism.”

Last week the US urged Israel to review its use of deadly force during military operations in light of Tamimi’s death.

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been elevated for the past year, with the military carrying out near-nightly raids in the West Bank in the wake of a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.

A string of Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank has killed 21 people since the start of this year and left several more seriously hurt.

At least 117 West Bank Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year — most of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, but some were uninvolved civilians or were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.

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